Whether you’re a newbie hiker about to embark on your first adventure, or a seasoned traveler with countless miles under your belt, your hiking boots are an essential part of any trail you take on. Here’s how to make sure your boots are well cared for so that you have the best hikes possible.
- Break ‘Em In. Purchasing a pair of hiking boots is an important investment, and you’ll want to begin their proper care as soon as you get them home. Unless you enjoy blisters and aching feet, don’t wear them out on a hike without breaking the boots in first.
The simplest way to do this is to begin wearing them a bit at a time. Around the house, up and down stairs, on short trips to the grocery or corner store. At first, you might want to double up on the socks that you wear with them. With time, you’ll notice the boots getting more and more comfortable as they begin to mold to your feet and step patterns.
- Condition / Waterproof. While you’re breaking them in and before you wear them on your first hike, take some time to waterproof and / or condition your boots.
If your boots are all or mostly leather, you can condition them first to ensure the leather stays moisturized. Work a leather oil or cream into the leather according to the product directions. Don’t skip the seams, boot tongue, or eyelets (a good coating will help prevent rust). Allow the boots to dry at room temperature before you proceed with waterproofing.
Some boots will already be waterproofed (you can check this on the boot maker’s website or at the store you purchase them from), but it’s always a good idea to give them a good waterproofing treatment.
For all-leather hiking boots, you can use one type of product: A waterproofing spray that is wax-based, for example. Shoe polish also works well, and is especially good around the seams as you can really work it in. Follow the product directions for best results.
Many hiking boots are made out of a combination of products: Leather and a fabric that includes nylon. Each of these requires a different waterproofing substance. Cover or shield the leather when you’re using a waterproofing spray that is silicone-based on the fabric parts. You don’t want the silicone to get into your leather seams, since that can crack and weaken them. And then cover or shield the fabric parts while you work a wax-based waterproofing spray into the leather parts.
- Wear and Enjoy. Once your boots are broken in and waterproofed and ready to go, take a hike! You’ve done the work to ensure that they’re comfortable and moisture-resistant.
- Clean Up. After your hike, clean your boots. If they’re dusty, use a clean rag or soft brush. Remove mud with a damp cloth and let the boots dry naturally (as tempting as it might be to leave them by your campfire at night, excess direct heat can cause them to warp or crack. And you definitely don’t want the high temperature to mess with the glue that’s holding the soles in place). Since hiking boots can get so much wear, it’s important to keep their insides dry; adding a cedar shoe tree or sachet is helpful with combating odors.
If they’ve gotten soaked, you can stuff them with newspapers — this’ll help draw out the moisture and allow them to keep their shape.
- Storage. Once hiking season is (sadly) over, proper storage will ensure that your boots stay in great shape until you’re ready to take them out again. If you’re storing them in boxes, make sure those are well-ventilated but away from direct sunlight. If you’d like to try a different option, a boot organizer that you can leave in a storage closet will keep the boots stored upright so that the material doesn’t warp or crack, and the better designed organizers will also ensure that the insides stay open, thus allowing for proper air circulation.